Category Archives: Our Cruise Stories

Arrival in Cuba: Havana Day 1

by Don McCann

It’s always fun to spot ‘land’ off the bow of your ship, especially when it’s your first port following a day at sea.  However, on this cruise there were FAR more people at the forward viewing areas of the ship waiting to see THIS land.  As we cruised closer, it was quite the surprise to see the ‘skyline’ of Havana as it was more impressive and more developed than many would have thought.  Once we were close enough to see more details, I could see another cruise ship in port and I had a feeling it would be leaving to make room for our arrival.   Sure enough, it sailed out of the channel just in time to make way for our arrival.

Cuba photo first look

departing ship sails out of Havana Harbor to make room for our arrival

First, you see el Morro on the port side; an impressive fortress & tower with the same name as the one in San Juan, but different in size & appearance.  Then, I cannot explain it, but the real excitement was on the starboard side of the ship when we first saw the vintage cars of the 40’s & 50s cruising along the Malecon seawall area.  WOW, those cars are just SO cool and there were so many of them.  I started using my zoom lens to see how many I could capture.  I don’t understand it, but those cars really set the tone for excitement that you are entering a bit of a time capsule…and that’s the term that the locals use, as well.  They ARE a bit of a time capsule and the people of Cuba know it, too.

el Morro on the port side of Havana Harbor

el Morro from our port side, in Havana Harbor

first vintage car with zoom lens taken from ship

first vintage car I spotted, taken with zoom lens from ship

Sailing closer to the terminal, we could begin to see landmarks, such as the Capitol and several other domed buildings.  As we pulled alongside at the cruise terminal, it was interesting to see that there are three piers for ships, but only one is in use.  The other two are in very sad shape; one with all the rafters clearly exposed and no roof on top.  So right away, you get a sense of the decay of some parts of the city, which are along side some of the preserved, or pristine sights of the city, as well.  Just one of the many Cuban paradoxes.

Once we were docked, we were cleared to depart for our tour.  First, you queue up for the lines at Immigration in the terminal.  It’s not air conditioned, or at least not like we are used to, and it moves at its own pace.  You proceed one by one to present your passport and your Cuban visa (which the cruise line has provided onboard).  They take your photo, keep your visa, then stamp your passport.  WOW – a Cuba stamp in your passport – not something all the neighbors have, for sure!

Once onboard our modern and comfortable motorcoach, we meet our tour guide, who speaks perfect English.  We learned in our seminar yesterday that Cubans have a 99.8% literacy rate and they are taught English beginning in the fourth grade.  The tour takes you first into a tunnel, under the port, to the “Rio-style” statue of Christ across the channel.  There is great pride in that this is the tallest statue in the world which was designed by a woman.  There are also great views of the city from this location.  Afterwards, we continue through the city and along the Malecon seawall and we have our next stop at an artists’ community-type neighborhood called Fusterland (Fuster is a noted artist who uses tile mosaics and has adorned an entire area with his works).

tile-covered buildings in "Fusterland"

tile-covered buildings in “Fusterland”

Our third stop is Revolution Square; in reality, it’s a very large parking lot, but it is bordered by the very tall Revolution monument and buildings with the silhouettes of famed political heroes.  However, the best part of this stop was the rotating collection of more of those really cool cars which came through with tourists, one after the other!

Revolution Square

Revolution Square

As for the current society, we have learned that Cubans attend school at no charge, both grade school and university.  We have also learned that they have full health care, at no charge, and that they have housing guaranteed by the government.  We have been told that money is a constant challenge and the food is rationed so that everyone will be supplied.   Some of these facts cause you to wonder and be somewhat confused about Cubans and how they function, but the noted quote of the day was as our tour ended.   Our guide (who was studying to be a dentist), said “Go out and enjoy Cuba, but don’t try to understand it”!

vintage cars

vintage cars

After dinner back on the ship, we went out again to walk on the Malecon.  We’d been told that many people gather here at night and it’s an enjoyable walk with great views of the city.  Well, yes, there were many more people here at night, but perhaps it’s partially because almost no one has air-conditioning and it’s a bit more pleasant outside, than inside.  It was still plenty hot enough for us, but it was bearable.  (Note, I recommend a cruise to Havana to any interested traveler, but just NOT in July – it was SO HOT!) After our seaside stroll, we ventured into the heart of the city, toward the Capitol and back over to our ship.  We walked through some pretty dark blocks along our route, but we’d been advised that it was very safe as they have virtually no street crime and we had no issues.  Perhaps it’s the indoor heat, or maybe it’s simply the Latin culture, but there were plenty of people out & about at 11pm.

We ended our day fascinated by all we’d seen & experienced in such a short time and we were looking forward to Day 2 and our Vintage Car Tour!

(this is Part 3 in my series of Havana cruise posts; Part 4, the last, follows tomorrow)

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Filed under Caribbean Cruises, Cruise Escapes, Cuba Cruise, Empress of the Seas, Havana cruise, Our Cruise Stories, Our Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Uncategorized

Voyage to Cuba

by Don McCann

The minute we first stepped onboard ship, Cuba was ‘in the air’ with a band playing Cuban style music in the atrium.  We then proceeded up to the lunch buffet, where Cuban paella was being served.  I was very excited to begin our voyage to Cuba and was also pleased to see that Royal Caribbean was helping to set the mood for the trip!

The next morning, during our full day at sea, an introduction to Cuba lecture was featured in the main show lounge at 10am.

Mary Clark Coffey presents Cuba & it's history

Mary Clark Coffey presents Cuba & it’s history

Proving that this was to be no ordinary Caribbean cruise, the lecture was enthuisastically attended and the lounge was totally full.  I was thinking that a lecture on almost any topic on a cruise to St Thomas would be lucky to get 20 people; again proving that this was no ordinary Caribbean cruise!  Our speaker was Mary Clark Coffey, a professor from the northeast U.S.  She easily guided us through Cuba’s early trade history, sugar production, popularity with mob bosses, and of course, the turbulent political times.   Then the different areas of Havana were highlighted and with each photo shown, it became more exciting to realize that “we’ll there tomorrow”!

(this is Part 2 in my series of Havana cruise posts; Part 3 follows tomorrow)

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Filed under Caribbean Cruises, Cruise Escapes, Cuba Cruise, Empress of the Seas, Havana cruise, Our Cruise Stories, Our Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Uncategorized

Celebrity Edge

Celebrity Edge

by John Lane

I was recently given the opportunity to spend an afternoon at Celebrity Cruises’ Innovation Lab featuring their new ship, Celebrity Edge.  The 10,000 square foot venue behind Celebrity’s headquarters in Miami offers a look at the design elements and technology that will be featured on this new ship for 2018.

The Celebrity Edge is the first ship to be 100% designed in 3-D.  With special shoes and our 3-D glasses on we stood in front of a large screen where the outdoor deck appeared.

We watched as people moved about the deck and they could evaluate the space to see if there was enough space for good traffic flow.  We then saw how they could move structures to make more room, change the color or even the size of any object for it to be more pleasing …all of this in 3-D!

The biggest news of the ship is the infinite verandas.   They are 23% larger than Celebrity’s current verandas sailing today.  From their surveys Celebrity found their guests wanted:

  1. larger bathrooms
  2. larger beds
  3. more storage space
  4. larger living area
  5. larger veranda

Celebrity Edge infinite veranda

With the infinite veranda guests will experience all five.  This new veranda brings the outside in.  Glass French doors open to the veranda which gives you more living space or they can be closed off to create a traditional veranda.  A wall of glass that opens with a press of a button brings the fresh air and sunlight into your stateroom.  (click photos to enlarge)

CCelebrity Edge Magic CarpetThe Magic Carpet which started out as a new design for a tender platform transformed into a moveable multi purpose area that will be a luxury embarkation station on Deck Two.  When on Deck Five, it becomes an extension of one of the restaurants.  On Deck 14 it becomes an extension of the pool area and on Deck 16 it will host “Dinner on the Edge”.

New suites include six two-story Edge Villas offering 950 squareCelebrity Edge Villafeet complete with outdoor living space and plunge pool along with two Iconic Suites perched atop the bridge offering 1880 square feet of luxury along with 685 square feet of outdoor living space with Jacuzzi.  These two suites along with the Penthouse, Royal, Celebrity and Sky Suites will be part of the “Retreat” offering a private lounge area, pool and dining in Luminae, the private dining venue for Retreat guests.

These are just a few of the reveals offered at this time.  More amazing reveals are to come and will definitely raise the bar on cruising.  Beginning December 16, 2018 it will embark on 7 night alternating Eastern/Western Caribbean cruises from Fort Lauderdale.

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Scenic Eclipse

by Don McCann

Scenic Eclipse

We went to a presentation yesterday on a brand new ship and new offering from Scenic Cruises.  Currently, Scenic offers river cruises in Europe and some exotic locations, but this new ship will be an ocean-going vessel.  However, this is not ‘just another cruise ship’; on the contrary, this will be somewhat unique in several ways.

Scenic Eclipse is a luxury yacht-inspired cruise ship accommodating 228 guests and it will launch in August, 2018.  So your first thought might be “2018!?”  Why talk about it now?  Well, there are several reasons.  To begin with, the ship will sail primarily very intriguing, trip-of-a-lifetime type of itineraries, such as around Iceland, Antarctica, or some smaller European ports.  Such trips usually take some advance planning, not to mention that with only 228 passengers, the ship will most likely fill much farther in advance than larger ships.  Also, it’s not cheap.  It’s a true luxury experience, with pricing to match, and this often evokes careful consideration before a commitment is made.  That being said, while price is one thing, “value” is another and Eclipse will definitely be a good value with the experience AND the inclusions.  Just as with Scenic Cruises’ river ships, the Eclipse fares will include all gratuities, all beverages, specialty dining options, and shore excursions.  The only exception will be the excursions available from the two onboard six passenger helicopters, or the seven passenger submarine.  These unique options will make the overall experience just THAT much more impressive.

We feel confident that the Scenic Cruises management team can truly ‘deliver’ a wonderful and exciting cruise experience with Scenic Eclipse.  Take a look at some of the photos & video links below and contact us for more details!

Scenic Eclipse preview brochure cover

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Filed under adventure cruising, Cruise News, European Cruises, European River Cruises, Italy Cruise, luxury adventure cruising, Mediterranean Cruises, New Ship, Our Cruise Stories, Our events, River Cruises, Scenic Cruises, Scenic Eclipse, Uncategorized

WindSurf: photo follow-up

by Don McCann

In our last post, I promised to post photos of the WindSurf from our recent cruise in Italy & Croatia.  The photo link is below, but I also want to add a few comments…

Although WindSurf looks unlike a traditional cruise ship from the outside, the interior is very much like many ships.  It is very comfortable for someone looking for the Lounge, the Dining Room, or a Specialty Dining alternative.  It’s very stable; we had only one night of ‘some’ motion and the winds were such that I’m sure ANY cruise ship in the area had motion, as well.  The cabin is designed to look like more of a yacht-type accommodation, than a cruise ship, but you’ll find all of the same amenities, but with maybe more storage (the storage was really great).  What you don’t find is a crowd.  With only 310 guests, it’s very relaxed, with no lines, no competition for best seats in the lounge, etc.  If you’ve only cruised on large ships, it’s difficult to imagine how much better the experience can be on a smaller vessel (maybe ask someone who’s taken a river cruise).

Regardless of which of the Windstar Cruises’ yacht ships you might select, you’ll have an upscale experience – trust me!

Now for those photos……

Camera icon click here mod

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Filed under Croatia Cruise, Cruise Ship Dining, European Cruises, Italy Cruise, Mediterranean & Europe Cruises, Mediterranean Cruises, Our Cruise Stories, Our Cruises, River Cruises, Uncategorized, Windstar Cruises, Windsurf

Cruise Report: Windstar Cruises

 

 

by Don McCann

I recently returned from Windstar Cruises’ Windsurf on an 8-Night itinerary from Venice to Rome.  I’d sailed with Windstar several years ago, but that was on one of their smaller ships (Windsurf is their largest sailing yacht).  For those not familiar with the line, Windstar has three “sailing yachts” and three “motor yachts”.  They use the term “yacht” because of the small number of guests onboard and the overall experience related to the smaller size.

Windstar’s two smaller sailing yachts each carry 148 guests and the larger Windsurf carries 310 guests.  The three motor yachts, recently acquired from the deluxe line Seabourn, each accommodate 212 guests.  While each ship offers enough space and amenities to be comparable to a traditional, large cruise ship, the ambiance is definitely more intimate and yacht-like.

Unlike the more expensive ultra-deluxe cruise lines which carry smaller numbers of passengers, Windstar provides a very upscale experience at a much lower rate.  They don’t claim to be like Crystal, or Regent, but they deliver a premium level cruise experience which some would put more in league with say Azamara, or perhaps Oceania.

Aside from the advantage of the relaxed and spacious onboard experience, the smaller size of the ship allows Windstar to physically dock, while larger ships have to tender (anchor out and shuttle boat back & fourth) in certain ports.  On our cruise this was the case in Kotor, Montenegro and while we had to tender in Dubrovnik, we did so from very close in, while the larger ships were WAY far away from town and not visible from the port.

I’ll post a future blog with photos from the ship itself, but for now, I’d like to share just a few photos of the fantastic ports on this itinerary.  We had a port every day (only one day at sea) and we truly loved them all.  Take a look and see why…..

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Our water taxi enroute to our pre-cruise hotel in Venice

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Classic view of Venice!

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Windsurf in Venice, ready for embarkation

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From the port of Rovinj, our excursion was to Motovun

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The Croatian countryside, out from Rovinj

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Split, Croatia, as seen from our ship

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recently restored Cathedral of St. Duje in Trogir, an excursion from Split

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Fortress of Kamerlengo, Trogir, Croatia

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“Walking the wall” in Dubrovnik

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Dubrovnik as seen from the cable car station atop the hill

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The stunning ‘fjord-like’ access into Kotor, Montenegro

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climbing the 1,350 steps to the top for great views of Kotor!

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“Our Lady of Health” church, overlooking Kotor below

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We made it!  All 1,350 steps to the top at Kotor’s Castle of San Giovanni

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Windsurf in the distance, as we drive up to Taormina, Sicily

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the square at the entrance to Taormina

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colorful, picturesque Taormina

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The Gambino Vineyards on Sicily (no, not THAT Gambino!)

 

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The famed Blue Grotto on the isle of Capri

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overlooking Capri from atop Anacapri

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The Colosseum, of course

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Arch of Constantine, Rome

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Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, Rome

For more information on Windstar Cruises, call us, or click here

 

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Filed under Capri, Italy, Croatia Cruise, Dubrovnik, European Cruises, Italy Cruise, Kotor, Montenegro, Mediterranean & Europe Cruises, Mediterranean Cruises, Our Cruise Stories, Our Cruises, Rome, Rovinj, Croatia, Taormina, Uncategorized, Venice, Windstar Cruises, Windsurf

Potholes in the Road

by Bill Edwards

As some of you know, last fall I spent 2 weeks in Europe — a 7 night cruise on the Azamara Journey between Monte Carlo and Rome with additional time at both ends in Nice and Rome.  In a nutshell it was an absolutely wonderful trip – the ship AND the itinerary.  But since returning I’ve been thinking about what were my favorite things about the trip and my favorite stops.

Being a cruise agent since 1985 I’ve noticed a few changes in my thinking over these past almost 30 years – call it the aging process if you want—I won’t be offended!  But where I used to be focused on details of a trip,  I now seem to look more at the “big” picture and how the things that we DO and DO NOT have control over affect our perception of a vacation.  Let me cite a couple of examples:

Cinque Terre

Lovely Cinque Terre

The weather – which we never have control over – affects your experiences and how you remember a port of call.  I’d so looked forward to Cinque Terre – the pastel painted villages that literally hang on the cliffs overlooking the azure seas of the Mediterranean.   Well – our day there was overcast and a little bit drizzly at times.  It didn’t ruin things for us by any means but in contrast to our stop later in the cruise at Ravello on the Amalfi coast – what a difference.  The weather was perfect and thus, in my mind, I would rank Ravello as one of my favorite stops on the entire trip.

Location – Location – Location.  How many times have you heard that word used in relation to buying real estate?  Well it applies just as importantly

Colosseum in Rome

The Always Impressive Colosseum in Rome

to the location of your hotel on a trip—which is something one DOES have control over.  I have to be honest and say that while I was looking forward to visiting Rome for the first time I did NOT think I was going to like it.  I had visions in my mind of a dirty, bustling city with somewhat rude people.  Was I ever surprised in so many ways!  Not only was it much cleaner than I expected – the locals were nice — and again it didn’t hurt that the weather was near perfect.  But I think what really helped was the location of where we stayed.  We were just steps down a side street from the Pantheon.  We walked EVERYWHERE – the Colosseum and Forum, Piazza Navona, and the Vatican.  How many times do we “scrimp” on hotel costs rather than pay for location and thereby enjoy more of what a city has to offer?

So in the end – yes we can control some things; others we can’t.  Keep your travel eye on the big picture and…

“Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey” – Fitzhugh Mullan

Pantheon in Rome

The Pantheon in Rome

Tuscany

Scenic Tuscany

Pompei

Ruins of Pompei

Florence

Overlooking Florence

Ravello

With my wife, Lisa, in Ravello

Amalfi Coast

Dramatic Amalfi Coast

Ravello

Ravello

Interested in more info on this itinerary, or details on Azamara, email: Bill@CruiseEscapes.com

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Filed under Azamara Club Cruises, European Cruises, Mediterranean & Europe Cruises, Mediterranean Cruises, Our Cruise Stories